16 December 2011

Chemists, Toxicologists, Health Experts Needed - Help Rebut VA

Air Force C-123 aircrews and maintenance personnel will be denied appropriate Agent Orange exposure health benefits now that the VA has constructed their report against us having been exposed in the toxic airplanes.

We have to rebut this, both with evidence to submit during each of our VA applications and with the inevitable appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals. If necessary, at this point we have been offered pro bono legal support, but the hope is that years can be saved (and how many do we have left, anyway??) by having enough persuasive evidence in the initial applications.

The law states the VA is supposed to help perfect a veteran's claim. This they won't do except to tell you how to access your own records. The VA is also supposed to give a veteran the benefit of the doubt at every stage. This they won't do thanks to their November 17 and December 14 press releases. Somehow, their folks have, in response to orders from their supervisors, built an imaginary situation where the "heavily contaminated", "extremely hazardous, extremely contaminated" airplanes were not a danger to the crews flying and maintaining them for the decade 1972-1982.

We need scientific help to debate this. We need chemists to explain that the VA's approach is full of errors. We need toxicologists to explain that a contaminated airplane, unpressurized, vibrating, windy and wet inside, could not have failed to expose us over our ten years flying it. 

Inhalation, dermal contact and ingestion...we absorbed dioxin from each of these routes. One of the good resources we can start to study is the comprehensive Army manual Technical Guide 312. Much to be learned here, about dermal contact, inhalation, surface contamination...and much to use to fight the VA's voodoo science! A reservation we have about TG 312 is that it addresses office workers, but our time aboard aircraft was much longer, more intense, subjected to greater stresses of flight (both aircraft and crew), and for a decade. Further, the manual deals with contemporary assessments of contaminated facilities, where the only tests on our airplanes were begun in 1994, twelve years after their retirement. This will require a very thoughtful retrospective analysis!

If you are a professional able to offer your review of the VA's materials to help support our claims that we've been exposed, please contact me...you'll have our most sincere thanks!

Here is what the VA put out against us:
Properties of TCDD
TCDD may be inhaled as an aerosol. The reports and literature demonstrated that in the vapor stage, TCDD has an atmospheric lifetime of only about three days. Dried TCDD on interior aircraft surfaces does not aerosolize when exposed to temperatures found inside aircraft during any conceivable use. There is a low probability that dried TCDD would aerosolize during routine crew use and present a risk to health by inhalation. Also, there are no data from the U.S. Air Force or other sources confirming dioxins in air samples taken from post-Vietnam C-123 aircraft.
Routes of exposure
Ingestion as a route of exposure on these aircraft would require that TCDD would need to have entered the mouth through contaminated food or water or by hands contaminated with TCDD. There is a low probability that transfer of TCDD in food or water or from hand-to-mouth could occur among these crew members, especially given that the sampling for TCDD on the aircraft surfaces required use of a solvent (hexane) to displace and dissolve any residue.
Solid TCDD can be extremely stable in the absence of direct sunlight. Once TCDD dries on hard surfaces, such as on an aircraft, it does not readily cross through human skin. Even if the dried material were to come into contact with perspiration or oils on skin, the skin would act as a barrier prohibiting further penetration of TCDD. There is a low probability that TCDD penetrated through the skin of these aircrews.
Scientific review and analysis
The Office of Public Health reviewed the following studies and reports, and will continue to review new findings relevant to this issue as they become available.
Air Force Sampling Reports
"Aircraft Sampling: Westover AFB, MA." Prepared by W.W. Conway, USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, Brooks AFB, TX; 1979.
for 645 MedGrp/SGB: Consultative Letter AL/OE-CL-1994-0203, review of Dioxin Sampling results from C-123 Aircraft, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH and Recommendations for Protection of Aircraft restoration Personnel."* (444 KB, PDF) Prepared by WH Weisman and RC Porter, Armstrong Laboratory, Brooks AFB, TX; 1994. "Memorandum for HQ AFMC/SGC: Consultative Letter, AL/OE-CL-1997-0053, Cleanup of Contaminated Aircraft, Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center."* (140 KB, PDF) Prepared by RC Porter, Armstrong Laboratory, Brooks AFB, TX; 1997.

"Dioxin and Herbicide Characterization of UC-123K Aircraft – Phase I." Prepared for Director of Operations, 505 Aircraft Sustainment Squadron and Hazardous Waste Program Manager, 75CEG/CEVC, Hill AFB, UT (prepared by Select Engineering Services, Layton, UT); 2009.
Peer-Reviewed Literature

Buffler PA, Ginevan ME, Mandel JS, Watkins DK. The Air Force health study: an http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/scientific-review-residue-c123.asp Page 1 of 2
Scientific Review: Agent Orange Residue in C-123 Aircraft - Public Health 12/14/11 10:45 AM
Buffler PA, Ginevan ME, Mandel JS, Watkins DK. The Air Force health study: an
epidemiologic retrospective.* Ann Epidemiol 2011; 21:673-87.
Diliberto JJ, Jackson JA, Birnbaum LS.
Comparison of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) disposition following pulmonary, oral, dermal, and parenteral exposures to rats.* Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1996; 138:158-68.
Karch NJ, Watkins DK, Young AL, Ginevan ME. Environmental fate of TCDD and Agent Orange and bioavailability to troops in Vietnam. Organohalogen Compounds 2004; 66:3689-94.
Keenan RE, Paustenbach DJ, Wenning RJ, Parsons AH.
Pathology reevaluation of the Kociba et al. (1978) bioassay of 2,3,7,8-TCDD: implications for risk assessment.* J Toxicol Environ Health 1991; 34:279-96.
Michaud JM, Huntley SL, Sherer RA, Gray MN, Paustenbach DJ.
PCB and dioxin re-entry criteria for building surfaces and air.* J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol 1994; 4:197-227. Newton M, Norris LA. Potential exposure of humans to 2,4,5-T and TCDD in the Oregon coast ranges.* Fundam Appl Toxicol 1981; 1:339-46.
Weber LW, Zesch A, Rozman K.
Penetration, distribution and kinetics of 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin in human skin in vitro.* Arch Toxicol 1991; 65:421-8.
Young AL, Giesy JP, Jones PD, Newton M.
Environmental fate and bioavailability of Agent Orange and its associated dioxin during the Vietnam War.* Environ Sci Pollut Res Int 2004;11:359-70.

Risk Assessment Reports
Doull J. Acceptable levels of dioxin contamination in an office building following transformer fire. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1988.
Kim NK, Hawley J.
Risk assessment: Binghamton State Office Building.* (285 KB, PDF) Albany, NY: New York State Department of Health, 1982.
University of California [Davis]. Department of Environmental Toxicology. Risk Science Program (RSP).
Intermedia transfer factors for contaminants found at hazardous waste sites: 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).* (118 KB, PDF) Sacramento, CA: Department of Toxic Substances Control, 1994. 

14 December 2011

VA Releases "Scientific" Explanation of C-123 Dixoin Denials

Ever-eager to stomp our hopes into the ground, the VA on December 14 released an explanation of their investigation of the Agent Orange contamination of our C-123 aircraft and how they reached the determination that somehow, despite the aircraft contamination, we have not been exposed.

Readers with a scientific background will recoil in horror at this report being called "scientific". It is not. It was prepared with the predetermined objective of insuring a negative response to our exposure claims...and that ain't science, folks! Science requires being led where the facts take you, not cherry-picking data to make sure your report satisfies the boss.

Simply put their report is full of holes, not full of science.

It cites, first, a report prepared by then-Staff Sergeant Conway who inspected Patches in 1979. While respectful of all NCOs (I spent half of my career as one), I hesitate to base the health care of 1500 veterans upon the report of a 5-level NCO. Further, as confirmed by Prof. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University's School of Public Health, that inspection did not test for dioxin. Well, duh...isn't that what this is all about?

Next, the VA cites the 1994 test on Patches at the AF Museum, but fails to note those toxicologists (Dr Ron Porter and Capt Wade Weisman) who determined that the airplane was "heavily contaminated" with dioxin. Dr Porter later testified in a federal court case that the C-123s were "a danger to public health." I think this rates another "duh".

The VA concludes by citing the 2009 Hill AFB report "Dioxin and Herbicide Characterization of UC-123K Aircraft - Phase I." However, to make sure their "research" properly reflects their predetermined conclusion, they do not mention that the author of that report himself insisted, on 26 October 2011, that no conclusions be drawn, one way or another, regarding aircrew exposure during 1972-1982! This is another solid "duh".

Finally, to reach for some scientific reason to bolster their denial of veterans' claims, the VA says because chemical wipes were required to release dioxin from the surfaces tested that implies flying personnel wouldn't have been exposed because of dermal protection. Guess these VA "scientists" forgot to read carefully the test protocols which later specified that water, not chemical, wipes would be used for testing. A final, solid "duh" called for here, right?

Good thing that the Armed Services are led by people with a sense of honor and intense dedication to doing their jobs right, rather than by civil servants who yield to their boss' dictating research results to insure veterans are denied well-earned benefits! And that's no duh!

13 December 2011

New C-123 Agent Orange Website Launched!

Finally, with an afternoon blessed with peace and quiet, we got our web site launched!

The site, www.c123agentorange.com,is a more formal presentation of our Agent Orange exposure claims. It will yield different results on search engines than does this blog, plus many folks consider any blog to be more social than professional.

Let me know of any suggestions regarding articles, links, news about dioxin claims...whatever.

12 December 2011

A Gathering of Eagles (old ones, anyway) in honor of MSgt Gabby Gadbois

The Westover club overflowed with fellowship and affection Friday night, as crew members from the early '70s to today's folks met to honor retired Master Sergeant Gabby Gadbois, our former first sergeant. Gabby is a bit lame these days but fighting as he always has, only this time for himself and not us.

A First Shirt always puts the troops first, as Gabby has, but these days we are putting him first. First in our prayers, first in our hearts as well. Gabby has fought long and hard against soft tissue sarcoma, lung problems, chemo troubles and now brain cancer. We saw bravery in action Friday night as we gathered around him, and this time it is our chance to sustain and protect him! And, I confess, some of us there did a bit of moaning and whining about our own boo-boos, gifts of the Agent Orange debacle.

As you know, the VA has refused to recognize Gabby's Agent Orange illnesses as related to Agent Orange, despite his hundreds of hours flying the contaminated C-123s at Westover. The VA's policy is to insure that the number of Agent Orange victims receiving care is kept to a minimum, and this is done by constructing arguments against our exposure regardless of any proofs we offer.

And that's what they've done to this distinguished veteran of nearly 30 years service. Gabby's illnesses, according to the VA, cannot result from his years flying airplanes the Air Force certified as "heavily contaminated," "a threat to public health," "extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous, extremely contaminated."! Even decades after the airplanes' last Agent Orange spray missions in Vietnam, the C-123s tested over eight times the safe building reentry standards for dioxin contamination as recognized by every agency. The contamination had to have been much more intense back in 1972-1982.

Building the case against us was the November 17 VA press release. An amazing piece of work, best called "Bull!" by the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the only time anyone can recall that the VA took preventative strikes against veterans' claims. Still...it was completely amazing.

Amazing because it has holes in it big enough for a Mac truck. The VA says we weren't exposed because the heavy contamination in the aircraft couldn't transfer to humans. They cite the fact that the dioxin was measured by the AF toxicologists in 1994 using chemical wipes. Well, duh??

It turns out that there are two measurements taken to establish dioxin contamination: the first is an air sample, which the Air Force opted not to due as per many 2008 memos. In them, an Army expert opines that the air samples need not be taken, perhaps because of political issues. Mr. Charles Sarafini, an engineer with CBRN Decontamination Systems, stated that the aircraft were contaminated with dioxin in his memos to Major Carol McCrady, Operations Officer for the Proven Aircraft Squadron at Hill. Memos go back and forth, with an eventual decision to do chemical wipe samples because that was the gold standard for tests.

So what does our favorite Veterans Administration do? It turns and twists the facts in response to their orders from above, and reaches the amazing conclusion that because chemical wipes were taken on Patches and other aircraft, somehow the VA has managed to prove no dermal exposure could result. Instead of trying to find a way (you know...they benefit of the doubt which is supposed to be given every veteran submitting a disability claim!) that helps us qualify for the care we need, they proceeded with a mindset, and a determination, to prevent us from coming to them for medical care.

The press release is also amazing other toxicologists, chemists, public health officials and the press. Itshe pushes their opinion over the ledge of credibility by stating that even if exposure did occur, it wouldn't be enough to cause long term health. What about the industry standard regarding dioxin that "contamination equals exposure." VA ignores that one!

So, I guess our current cancers, heart disease, and other troubles are from our imagination! So much for the completely ignored VA requirement to give the veteran every benefit of the doubt. The hard, cold facts are that the VA can't handle any more disabled veterans on their current budget, and the best way to prevent further overload is to convince themselves that we're not eligible...that we're not disabled because of our decades of flying tainted airplanes...that our exposure to dioxin wasn't enough to have the VA give us the benefit of the doubt. The VA gives itself the benefit of the doubt and strikes out against us veterans with their November 17 statement.

So let's fight back!  Let's get all the documents like flight orders, Form 5s, signed personal statements, photographs of any C-123 crud we might have documented, maintenance info...anything you feel will help establish the condition of the aircraft once they were assigned to us. The USAF School of Aerospace Medicine has been tasked with looking into our problem and trying to make a statement about it...the statement may not be one establishing the exposure to a certainty, but at least the AF should reach a conclusion, in VA-speak, that the aircrews "more likely than not" have been exposed. It is called the benefit of the doubt, which the VA has forgotten was to be extended to us.

Let me know if you have documents we can use!

07 December 2011

USAF Needs C-123 Information! NOW!

The USAF School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson AFB is investigating the dioxin contamination of our C-123 and trying to determine whether we have been exposed to the Agent Orange left after Vietnam. 

They need our help...to help us! Their project OIC wrote to ask us:

That's one of our questions--how much red clay from Vietnam came home with the planes? And how much of that saturated with AO? We are looking at possibility of airborne exposure from both vapor, as well as particulate-bound dioxin. 
What kinds of activities might have caused particulate-bound AO to blow in and out of nooks and crannies?  
We think that we can probably find some reference values from the literature of a "body-burden" of dioxin considered to be a problem. From there we can do some back-calculations about how much mass you'd need to inhale, ingest, and have dermal contact with. 
If you have memories, or even with luck original documents or photos, please get them to Wes Carter by scanning the materials, or if you can offer your personal knowledge, send in a SIGNED letter detailing what you know. Wes is at c123kcancer@gmail.com

We are looking for physical condition of the aircraft when they were assigned to the 731st. We are looking for photos. We are looking for information about the black, smelly goop in the wings and under the cargo deck...that's the stuff which was mostly one of the insecticides but also contained dioxin left over from the Agent Orange spray operations. 

I can't stress how important this research is and how important your contribution can be. The VA has turned us down. The Air Force is trying to stand up for us but will do so only if backed by evidence that the Provider was indeed contaminated to the point of causing us harm. Your signed letters are vital.

A point. We all know how stinky Patches was, but hat stink was not Agent Orange--it was the malathyon! Dioxin has no odor, and Agent Orange was something that evaporated fairly quickly. But not the dioxin that was in it. So we need hard data and first-hand signed personal recollections...which the VA will accept as evidence in our veterans benefits claims...to start helping the School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM). 

Maintenance folks like Charlie Fusco, Joe Butler...all of you guys...please get behind us on this!

06 December 2011

SLD Web Site Picks Up Our Cause!

Second Line of Defense, a major website targeting the defense industry and DOD leadership, carried a great article about us, in part prepared by an executive from the Disabled American Veterans. Thanks to all for this helpful coverage.  Check it out by clicking on the link below:

"Help Us Find C-123 Veterans!", SLD, 12/5/11 by Ed Timperlake

02 December 2011

Air Force & Army Times - Article about C-123 & Agent Orange

The Air Force Times today carried a nice article about how the VA has denied our exposure aboard the C-123, giving it extra emphasis with a quote from an official of the Vietnam Veterans of America who called the VA's position "bull"!

Former Dow Chemical Employee Supports our C-123 Claims

I was just contacted by a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who formerly was employed by Dow Chemical, and he maintains the VA's position was "ludicrous" in that our aircrews have certainly been exposed! He has offered to provide a letter of support as well as expert evidence (he has a P.hD.) as a former member of the Army Chemical Corps. This is thanks to the article he read today about us in the Army Times, page 2.

Walkin' the Halls in Washington DC

I spent three days in Washington DC in an effort to work with veterans' organizations as well as to locate the decision maker on the recent VA memo about the C-123 Agent Orange issue.

Success on the first part. I first visited headquarters for the Vietnam Veterans of America. I was fortunate to be routed to their two Board of Veterans Appeals experts who were bewildered...and fascinated...by the VA's memo about us! They point out this is the first instance in which the VA has said a low threshold of Agent Orange should be acceptable regarding veterans' health. This is implied in their paragraph where the VA states that even if we have been exposed via dry dioxin transfer it wouldn't have been "enough" to affect our long-term health! Question...just how much dioxin is "enough"?

Following the VA meeting I traveled to the Disabled Veterans of America. While not as expert about Agent Orange as the Vietnam Veterans of America, they have a much larger staff and their dedication is obvious. The manager I worked with spent an hour with me going over the possible actions we can take.  He encouraged working with our congressional representatives to get an amendment to a veterans or defense act to include our "boots on the airplane" position, and offered to bring the issue to his legal staff for further development.

My last stop was with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I was extremely disappointed with their lack of concern. Meeting me in their lobby without even the courtesy of an office visit, their representative said he was confused about Agent Orange issues himself, and had little guidance about it. Their focus is more on current veterans' issues, which I respect, but I told him that our group of 1500 deserves attention from both the VA and the VFW!  The sum of their "help" was that we should file our applications for veterans' benefits with their regional offices.

My last day was spent in the archives of the National Air Space Museum where their curators had arranged a collection of literature for me. Unfortunately, all of the highly technical materials were stored elsewhere and in transit to another location, leaving only their collection of popular literature. There was in this the best article I've found summarizing the life and career of the C-123, and I've posted it to our blog to download (34MG). Note: they don't have a C-123 in their collection,  but try not to hold that against them..this is still a great place to visit!

The interest from the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine has been gratifying! Their interest in getting to the bottom of the C-123 dioxin contamination is amazing and appreciated. Currently, their request to us is to help identify areas of the aircraft where our maintenance folks found that black "goop" which led to the 1979 inspection team from Warner-Robbins. They also want to find any remaining aircraft, such as the one at the Warner-Robbins museum, to conduct very detailed and more modern scientific testing. Folks, the Surgeon General of the AF hasn't let us down!

01 December 2011

VA Releases C-123K Dioxin Exposure Denial

On 17 November the VA released their determination that the C-123 aircrews had not been exposed to Agent Orange residue left on the aircraft following Vietnam.  This seems to be the first time the VA has launched a preemptive strike concerning veterans' Agent Orange claims, but it is understandable given their determination to prevent any further impact on an already-overtaxed budget. It is unfortunate that they have  claimed that a threshold now exists where even a small amount of dioxin exposure is to be held harmless by the VA. It is also unfortunate that this position flies in the face of current research, especially concerning long-term exposure to dioxin, even in low-dosage situations.

Our next steps will focus on challenging this newfound position, with assistance from the various universities and professional societies which have offered their assistance.

Fortunately, the Air Force has not dropped the case and continues their investigation into aircrew exposure,  led by experts at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine.

Friends, we need help on this effort. Every one of us lives in a state with many medical schools...these schools are filled with experts we can invite to help us. The VA respects professional letters from chemists, physicians, toxicologists. A recent US Army benefits hearing had the officials constantly stressing to the veteran that they'd accept his doctor's statement that his Agent Orange-type illness was "most likely" due to his Agent Orange exposure while performing depot maintenance on Army helicopters in the states!

We don't have to (and shouldn't) ask our doctors to prepare a phony letter about us...but we have every right to ask that our physicians state that we have an Agent Orange-presumtpive illness, that your records indicate exposure to Agent Orange while serving as a crew member, and that the illness is at least "as likely as not" caused by your exposure.

Ideas welcome...let me know! Meanwhile, get into gear and contact your local universities' experts to ask their help in a letter campaign.